Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor
Had you asked me 3 weeks ago if I was racist, I would’ve unequivocally, absolutely with full conviction, said no. No way in hell. I’d bet my life and the lives of everyone I love on it, no hesitation whatsoever.
But a lot can change in 3 weeks.
Yet not enough can change in 400 years.
I’m an empathic, highly sensitive person (HSP), and I’ve always thought of myself as kind, compassionate and, by nature, sensitive to other people’s experiences, emotions, and energy.
But recently, I’ve discovered that I’m also insensitive and racist.
And I’m crushed.
These past three weeks have been heavy.
I’ve realized that I’m a product of a system that has brainwashed me into being racist without even knowing it. In fact, I’ve been so utterly against discriminating based on the color of a person’s skin that I consciously went the polar opposite of noticing color and told myself I was colorblind, which, as I’ve now learned, is also a form of racism and part of the systemic conditioning.
It’s a complex and centuries-rooted system with many layers of pretense and illusion. It makes you think you’re doing the right thing when in fact, you’re falling further into its trap and carrying out its plan in the real world, all day, every day, with real people.
Real people who are really hurting.
And I’m the one doing the hurting, along with billions of others who don’t realize it.
My intentions were pure, but as Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus says:
The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.
People have been telling me not to be too hard on myself. “You didn’t know what you were doing,” they say. “You’re not racist, you’re just unconsciously biased. You’re a good person and you never meant to hurt anyone. It’s not your fault, it’s the system’s fault.”
I understand that, and yet, in this moment, I WANT to take full responsibility for what I didn’t know. I WANT to give myself the full, ugly, and harsh verdict of being a racist, rather than lessening the charge to unconscious bias or inadvertent prejudice.
It would feel better to blame the system and to say it was all unconscious. Yes, it would feel much better.
But I’m not in this to feel better.
I’m in this to create lasting change and a better future for our world and my fellow humans, no matter what our skin color.
And in order to do that, I have to FULLY OWN my role in this broken system, even if it breaks me.
I take solace in these words:
We’ve been taught to think about a racist as someone who consciously and intentionally seeks to hurt people based on race. And if that’s what you think it means to be racist, then of course it’s offensive that I would say you were racist. When you change your understanding of what it means to be racist, you will no longer be defensive…
When you change your definition, it’s actually liberating… It’s transformative… you can stop defending, deflecting, denying, explaining away, giving all the evidence for why you are different and couldn’t possibly have been impacted by the society you live in.
DiAngelo, a white woman, candidly admits, “All of the racism I’ve perpetrated in my life was neither conscious nor intentional, but harmful to other people nonetheless.”
I urge you to read this guide with DiAngelo’s new definition in mind. Understanding racism in this way allowed me to be kind, loving, and gentle with myself, and remain emotionally and mentally open to learning more about myself and the ways in which I’ve perpetuated racism unconsciously. It also helped me understand the racist people in my life and ways in which they, too, are unconscious.
If you’ve been questioning your own unconscious bias or those of your loved ones, my hope is that this guide is not only informative, but also transformative for you, in the same way learning and processing all this has been for me.
Like this article, the journey is long. And a very personal one at that.
As a friend of mine said, “You’re a good person on a journey. And you’re not alone on that journey.” Knowing I’m not alone in my quest to evolve and become a better human being and living soul, I’m inspired to honestly and openly share what I’ve learned about myself, about others and about racism in the past few weeks.
I’m not an expert by any means, and I’ve only barely begun my conscious education of racism, which is a lifetime learning.
While this article is difficult to write on a personal level, having to admit ways in which I’ve been unconsciously racist, and also, knowing it may offend many and open the floodgates for criticism, I can’t NOT write it. I can’t remain silent. I can’t stay protected in my happy spiritual bubble of unicorns and rainbows transmuting energy, meditating and visualizing peace for this world while ignoring, denying, and avoiding the blood, skin, and bones that weave the fabric of our intertwined lives here on earth.
Besides, I can’t breathe.
This is my attempt to breathe again.
And more importantly, to breathe for those who can no longer breathe.
HOW TO NAVIGATE THIS GUIDE
In an effort to make this guide easier to sort through, I’ve created a linkable table of contents so you can quickly jump from one section to another and find the parts that might apply to you.
** For the record, this guide was written by an empathic, sensitive Amerasian female for her audience of diverse soul-centered empaths and HSPs, and specifically for those in her audience who are not black, though it could benefit anyone who’s starting to question their own unconscious bias. A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is a person who carries the genetic trait of high sensory-processing sensitivity, according to clinical and research psychologist Elaine N. Aron, PhD. HSPs are “deeply attuned and sensitive to their environments and relationships. They have high levels of empathy and emotional responsiveness. Above all, HSPs tend to be more thoughtful in their actions and deeply reflective. All this attunement and processing means they are also often easily overstimulated.” **
TABLE OF CONTENTS
About them apples – bad apple or rotten tree?
Why it's important to fully own your role in the broken system
How the mind works (and why we reject the idea of systemic racism)
4 common sayings you think are innocent but are actually biased and hurtful
All lives matter
Focusing on antiracism only brings more racism
Looting: two wrongs don't make a right
How to process your racist tendencies and still love yourself
Now what? How to move forward
If you don’t think you’re racist, start having conversations with people who aren’t your color. If you catch yourself becoming angry and defensive, wanting to explain how you have black friends, or you don’t see color, or any number of reasons why you can’t possibly be racist, chances are you’re probably racist.
We often have open conversations with people who look like us and agree with us, whether it’s a discussion about race, politics, sex, or religion. We often avoid conversations with those who vehemently disagree with us, unless we enjoy confrontation or want to change someone’s mind to think like us.
Our close circle of friends are usually those who look like us, same skin color, and have similar or at least non-opposing opinions and beliefs, especially around sensitive or taboo topics. We typically don’t venture outside our own bubbles, our own view of the world, our own economic and social classes, our own circles of friends and family, interests, and heck, we don’t even go to grocery stores outside our own neighborhoods that might have a higher population of people of other colors and classes than us.
You might ask, “Why would I possibly do that, it’s inconvenient to drive 50 miles away when the nearest grocery store is only 5 miles away.” Once you start learning more about systemic racism, you’ll understand why you live in the neighborhood you do and why that other grocery store is 50 miles away.
The more we remain inside our safe and familiar bubbles, the less we know about others, the less open we become to other people’s way of life, which can be radically different from ours.
Opening ourselves to how others live and hearing their stories can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if we have a relatively good life compared to theirs. Moreso, discovering that we are a part, no matter how small, of the system that perpetuates it, can be devastating.
So we avoid it altogether. We stay away from uncomfortable, heavy conversations that might lead us to a bigger truth. We stay in our happy bubbles until such time that we find the bubble closing in on us, suffocating us, and we can no longer breathe inside it.
This happened to me the day George Floyd died.
While he was taking his last breaths in life, I was taking my last breaths in my protective cocoon of privileged denial. I’m not alone in this as we can all see from the incredible awakening that’s happening around the world following his death. People have been shouting from the rooftops for centuries about racism.
Why am I just now hearing it? Why are we just now paying attention? WTF was wrong with us????
It’s like being in the Matrix. You don’t know you’re in the Matrix, plugged into the system, fed by it, controlled by it, sustained by it… until you wake up. Really wake up.
Photo by munshots
I believe George Floyd’s death was a wake-up call for many of us. His death is tragic, yet the global outcry it caused created a tsunami of change that I hope would make him, and all those before him, too many to name, extremely proud.
This is why I choose to speak openly about this. Because he can’t. Because they can’t.
Well-meaning people tell me I’m going to lose subscribers and readers and clients.
I don’t care.
People are going to hate you, criticize you, oust you, they say.
I don’t care.
At least soften it, they say, don’t call yourself a racist, you were unconsciously bias, it’s different.
It’s time to face the cold, hard truth.
George Floyd did when his face was pressed against the gritty, hard ground and his neck was squeezed to death. He didn’t get the luxury of softening words, comfort, and racial denial.
Nor should we.
If this article has been incredibly uncomfortable to read so far… good.
We need to get used to this discomfort.
The fact alone that I’m writing an article that calls out and separates “black people,” “white people,” and “non-black people” specifically is extremely uncomfortable and feels racist to me. I thought I wasn’t supposed to see or identify people by color, at least not out loud. But I’m learning now that racism isn’t about noticing color in people, racism is about discriminating against someone because of the color of their skin, and part of discriminating is pretending to NOT notice.
I have never in my nearly 50 years of life willingly sought out or joined a conversation that was specifically organized for black people and non-black people to talk about their racial experiences openly, to learn from each other.
And more so, I have never willingly joined (or even heard of) a live video call with the collective and known intention of everyone involved, that the black folks were going to enlighten the non-black folks, like me, about their ignorance.
And I’ve thankfully been on quite a few in the past 3 weeks.
It’s how I became aware of my own unconscious bias… by having others point it out for me.
By shining a light on the dark shadows in the hidden corners of our mind, we begin to see. By educating ourselves, by dropping our egoic defenses and opening our hearts and minds to healing and learning, by going deeper into our own beliefs, our perspective broadens and we awaken to ourselves and the world in a more holistic, truthful way.
I’ve been doing a lot of research lately. I’ve been on countless live calls offered by people I know, people I don’t know, and people of all colors, especially the black community. I’ve been listening to podcasts, reading, talking to others, absorbing. I’ve been having extremely difficult and emotional conversations with those gracious and willing enough to have them with me.
But mostly, I’ve been LISTENING.
Really, truly listening.
Not inserting my opinion… listening.
Not defending my stance… listening.
Not judging… listening.
And I’ve definitely stopped denying, minimizing, and dismissing.
ABOUT THEM APPLES – BAD APPLE OR ROTTEN TREE?
I hate to admit that until recently, I thought racism only existed in small pockets. I’d heard it was systemic but that didn’t fully sink in until last week. I thought most of the world, and especially our great America, was mostly nonracist and there were only bad apples here and there.
I don’t believe I’m a bad apple, but I DO want to fully own my role in perpetuating the broken system because I’ve since learned that good apples, through their ignorance, can do a lot of damage.
And I’ve also learned that the “bad apple” mentality is a part of the insidious system’s conditioning. White people in denial (or in my case, part white, part Asian) often talk about the bad apples, but they fail to acknowledge that the tree itself is spoiled. This is why we need to stop seeing things in terms of bad apples and good apples and start looking at the tree, the roots, nutrients, branches, etc., and view racism from a broader perspective.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO FULLY OWN YOUR ROLE IN THE BROKEN SYSTEM
Change starts within each of us. If we want to see the world out there change, we must change the world within ourselves, personally. Each and every one of us. We cannot confront racism in the world until we confront the racism inside us.
It starts with first becoming aware of what we’re doing, taking full ownership of it, and then and only then can we take full ownership of changing it. If I keep blaming the system for creating this mess, it’s easy to put the onus of responsibility on the system to clean it. It’s easy to bash the system and go about our lives, claiming we stand for equality, justice, and freedom, yet do absolutely nothing substantial about it.
If you stand for equality, TRULY and DEEPLY, do something about it personally.
Don’t just throw money at it. Americans are very good at throwing money at problems hoping they’ll go away. It’s the easy solution, as it doesn’t require any self-exploration and deep inner work, and it makes us feel better about ourselves. Americans give over $1 billion a day to causes and charities. According to Philanthropy Roundtable, we donate seven times as much as continental Europeans and double the total volume of a Canadian household. Granted, money is very much needed in our society and I’m not knocking monetary donations, however, it’s not enough.
No amount of money we could ever contribute collectively will amount to the radical, lasting transformation we can each create in the world by confronting our own shadows and changing our ways.
How long have we been donating to organizations to combat hunger, abuse, racism, sexism, and on and on? And you think a billion dollars plus a day isn’t enough to fix things?
We need to do better.
While donating to worthy causes makes us feel better about ourselves and undoubtedly helps the cause, it doesn’t create the deep internal change required to permanently fix a broken system that is run by individuals. Not just individuals in positions of power or authority, but the everyday ordinary working class individual as well. You. Me. All of us. Each of us.
We are ALL part of the system.
Any societal system is made up of a sum of its parts. In this case, its human parts. We humans of all colors are part of this system.
Because we’re part of the system, we can affect it. We can change it.
And we need to do more to change it.
We need to take change into our own hands. We need to look deeper into our own hearts, our own values, our own conditioning – unconscious or not, and change it where necessary.
We need to stop blaming, shaming, complaining, judging, criticizing, dismissing, denying, minimizing, and whitewashing.
We need to stop paying lip service to wonderful sounding values that make us feel good about ourselves and make others respect us, all the while ignoring our own unconscious bias and hidden racist tendencies.
How many emails have you received in the past three weeks, from corporations, organizations and personal newsletters that you subscribe to, that start with something like, “We stand in solidarity with the Black community…” or “We stand for justice, equality, freedom…” and end with, “we’re donating to insert-worthy-anti-racist-cause?”
And how many of those do you truly believe are searching within themselves for instances of systemic conditioning so that they can make a real, lasting change, long after the news stops reporting on the protests and the emotions wane?
Of course, I stand for justice, equality, and freedom too.
But it’s not that black and white, is it?
We know people who stand for justice that treat others in an unjust way.
We know people who stand for equality that treat others in an unequal way.
We know people who stand for freedom that treat others in a controlling or oppressive way.
I am and have been guilty of all those.
So unfortunately, having those values is simply not enough.
We need to stop living on the surface of things, hiding behind our initial general responses, whether it’s defensiveness or conditioning, and go intimately deeper within ourselves to uncover our own unconscious bias.
HOW THE MIND WORKS (AND WHY WE REJECT THE IDEA OF SYSTEMIC RACISM)
Let’s talk about why we hardly look beyond our initial general responses, from a scientific perspective.
What the mind doesn’t understand, it rejects. Our brain gathers information from the outside world, puts it all together like puzzle pieces based on our personal experiences, and tells us whether it’s valid (true) or not. If the information doesn’t fit within the lens of its understanding based on our experiences, it automatically rejects or dismisses it.
It says things like:
There’s no way that’s happening in this country today.
Maybe there’s a little of that going on but it’s isolated to the bad apples.
That was one white man killing one black man, don’t make it bigger than that.
Blacks kill more blacks than whites kill blacks.
Slavery was 400 years ago, stop playing the race card and get over it.
It didn’t even happen to you, it happened to your ancestors. Let it go.
I wanted to support the protestors after the murder of George Floyd but then they started looting and stealing things. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Now I can’t support them.
According to Samuel Paul Veissière, Ph.D, in Psychology Today:
There is a large and growing body of evidence — especially under Bayesian models of the brain, cognition, and culture — that human minds, like all living organisms, are biologically motivated to see and make the world consistent with their prior beliefs (both evolved and learned). This means that people often completely ignore (as in “not see at all”) what doesn’t fit their model, or actively work to destroy any evidence that challenges their model.
What doesn’t fit into our personal worldview, what we don’t understand or don’t want to face, we ignore, minimize, and flippantly explain it away, using other stats to support our viewpoint, as if that makes everything okay.
I’ve heard all of those things above these past few weeks, coming out of the mouths of people I love who are very well-intentioned and yet, racist – consciously or not.
In addition, what our heart doesn’t want to accept as truth, our mind supports, and gathers information and utilizes techniques to help us ignore whatever it is we don’t want to accept and pretend doesn’t exist.
Like our own unconscious bias.
Denial is one such technique.
As the character Ricky Fitts in the movie American Beauty says, “Never underestimate the power of denial.”
4 COMMON SAYINGS YOU THINK ARE INNOCENT BUT ARE ACTUALLY BIASED AND HURTFUL
The power of my own denial was so great that I thought and said things (which I now understand as completely ignorant and hurtful) that supported my unintentional racism. It wasn’t until I got on live video calls with very loving, patient black people that the veil of denial was lifted and I finally woke up. How they had patience with the non-black people, like me, on the call asking ignorant questions is beyond me. But we were all there to learn from one another and grow, and hopefully move toward a change, and I’m beyond grateful for their tolerance, love, and willingness to share their stories, and to call us out, so that we can become better human beings.
Here are 4 things I learned that on the surface, seem innocent and good, but are actually signs of unconscious bias and hidden racism hard at work.
Why this is hurtful:
Imagine a friend coming to you and telling you that her husband has been beating her for the past 20 years, that she’s been hiding her cuts and bruises, and remember when she told you she fell down the stairs and broke her arm? She didn’t fall down the stairs, he threw their metal patio chair at her face, she blocked it with her arm and it broke. She’s now coming to you because she’s in fear of her life and doesn’t know what to do. She finally mustered up the courage, after knowing you for 10 years, to ask for your help. He thinks she’s out grocery shopping, but instead, she rushed over to your house and only has an hour before he suspects something’s wrong. He’d brainwashed her into thinking maybe she deserved all the beatings, but she’s not so sure anymore. She tells you she thinks maybe her happiness and more so, her life, really does matter after all.
And then you tell her how you were once spanked as a child because you drew on the walls and how that still haunts you and how your life matters too. And you remind her that Mary down the street lost her job and doesn’t have money to feed the kids and how their lives matter too. And then you tell her about the poor animals being murdered in the slaughterhouse so that humans can eat their flesh and how their lives matter too. And then you talk about the starving children in Vietnam and how their lives matter too.
And your friend sits on the couch in front of you, black eyes and swollen face, staring blankly, as you go on and on about all the other lives that matter.
Do you see how this is dismissive of her personal experience and a great betrayal of empathy and compassion, let alone your friendship, and beyond, your humanity?
If that example doesn’t sink in, here’s another.
Imagine your neighbor’s house down the street, 4 blocks away, is on fire. He comes running to you in a panic, “My house is on fire! My house is on fire! Call the fire department!” and you look at his house and look around at the other houses in the neighborhood and you say nonchalantly, “Calm down. All houses matter. Don’t you see, all houses are equally important.” And he screams, “Yes, but MY house is on fire RIGHT NOW. MY house is burning down! My kids are in it!” And you say, “Yea, and yesterday it was a house on Chatsworth Street, tomorrow it might be another house on another street. There are houses burning down in other countries too, you know. We all deserve a house that’s not on fire.”
“All Lives Matter” is a stab in the back to “Black Lives Matter.” It’s insensitive, dismissive of the black experience, and highly insulting. The statement “Black Lives Matter” is not saying “Black Lives Matter to the exclusion of all other lives.” It’s simply stating that black lives matter too. Black lives have every right to matter just like all other lives.
Consider that when we say “all lives matter” in the face of this movement – and we feel smug and good about ourselves because we’re so inclusive and progressive – we’re really saying, “All lives matter except black lives.”
Think about it. Until we acknowledge that we’ve been letting their houses burn down by hiding behind our so-called values of equality and saying “all lives matter,” black lives will continue to not matter – to us.
But we all know this is beyond houses burning down. This is about real human lives that are being burned, abused, and murdered, and no one listening.
This is why I’ve decided to stop saying “All Lives Matter,” and stand fully with “Black Lives Matter.”
Why this is hurtful:
Believing you’re colorblind is classic overcompensation for your own inner unconscious racist tendencies. In Psychology textbooks, overcompensation is “a pronounced striving to neutralize and conceal a strong but unacceptable character trait by substituting for it an opposite trait.”
Let me explain by sharing my own personal story of racial discrimination.
The first color I knew was yellow. I was born in Vietnam during the Vietnam war to a white American father and a native Vietnamese mother. My first language was Vietnamese and all the people I knew, with the exception of my father, had slanty eyes, black hair, brown eyes, and darker skin. My relatives called my father “ông Mỹ” which means “the American man” and he was the different one. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale white skin.
When Vietnam fell, my dad packed my mom, me, and my two sisters up and took us back to America with him, moving in with his white American mother, my Nana. This is when I learned the color white. All the people around us were white, and we became the different ones.
This included my dad, who no longer fit in with his own race. He looked like them but he was no longer one of them, because he had us – 4 slanty eyed, off-white females that he called family – and because he went there, to what was back then the most unpopular war in American history.
He was spat on and ousted as a traitor by his fellow American citizens and it was difficult for him to find a job and settle back into his own country. I remember my teacher in Kindergarten asking me if I knew my dad was a “babykiller,” a common name they called American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war, falsely depicted by sensational Hollywood movies made in that era. I didn’t know what the word meant but I fiercely understood my teacher’s energy. Her energy said she hated my father and he was a bad man. I remember wondering what she thought about me since I came from him.
By the time I was 6, we’d moved out of the country, and would go back to America every summer. My 15th summer, we were visiting my Nana when she asked me why I was dating a black boy. Like a giddy teenager, I told her all the amazing and sweet things about him, and she interrupted me and said, “I know all that, but why did you choose a BLACK boy.” It was in that moment that I learned the color black and also learned that my Nana was racist.
Ironically, long before then, my Nana had shown signs of racism toward my mother and I never noticed. I thought she was just cranky. But now I realize she was racist against anyone who wasn’t white.
I remember consciously making the decision that I was NOT going to be like my Nana, noticing and discriminating against people because of the color of their skin. It churned my stomach to think about her being racist that I deliberately chose to swing in the opposite direction and avoid noticing color altogether, including my own.
I thought this was the right thing to do and for decades, I’ve felt content and confident in my own nonracist ways until two weeks ago when I learned that colorblindedness is not merely an inability or unwillingness to notice different colored skin, it’s also a lie we tell ourselves to hide from the dark truth.
A truth our hearts don’t want to admit, that:
Not seeing color is another shade of racism.
Because we don’t want to be accused of discriminating against a person of color, we avoid color altogether. We’re afraid we might say or do the wrong thing so we pretend that we think everyone’s the same. If we notice someone is black and we mention it, we might be accused of being racist, simply because we noticed they’re black, so we ignore their color and therefore we ignore any differences and any possible accusations of racism.
But if I gave you a box of crayons, would you see the different colors? Would you not pick the colors you consider pretty or pleasing to draw with? A box of crayons holds no racial tension, although some of the names of the colors like “flesh” is pretty darn racist – another sign of our deeply ingrained systemic conditioning. But in general, crayons in and of themselves are just a bunch of colored wax sticks that have no history of oppression, murder, or wrongdoing. It’s neutral. So we have no problem acknowledging that we see color when we look at a box of crayons, because there’s no fear that we’d be accused of being racist if we notice or even like the red crayon over the blue crayon.
How can we admit to seeing color in a box of crayons but not in a diverse world of people? It’s because we equate color in people – and noticing color in people – as negative. The fact alone that we fail to admit our ability to see color in people is indicative of the unconscious and deeply-rooted systemic conditioning that continues to exacerbate the problem.
Well-meaning whites teach their children that everyone is equal and should be treated the same, believing that ignoring ethnic differences promotes racial harmony. But in fact, it allows well-meaning whites to remain blind to others’ personal experiences, and therefore, further solidifies racial inequity.
By failing to admit we see color or by trying not to see color, we are in essence dismissing, denying and avoiding the experiences of people of color.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Monnica Williams writes, “Most minorities, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives.”
Who I am today is colored by the fact that I’m part white, part yellow, speak Vietnamese and English, have lived in Asia, America, the Middle East, and Europe, and have personally and intimately experienced the positive and negative racial, cultural, and ethnic differences in myself and others growing up.
To say that I’m colorblind is to deny who I am. And to deny who you are.
This is why I’ve decided to stop saying I don’t see color, and stop trying to not see color, and start noticing our colorful differences that have shaped us to become who we are.
Why this is hurtful:
As a spiritually conscious person, I understand the Law of Attraction. I understand that what you focus on increases, what you put your energy toward expands. Mother Teresa is quoted to have said, “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” The idea is that if you focus on peace, you’ll bring about more peace. If you focus on anti-war, which is merely the flip side of war, you’ll bring about more war. In pro-peace, your energy is aimed toward creating something positive. In anti-war, your energy is aimed toward fighting something negative.
We’re taught as spiritual students to not be “against” anything as it only creates more resistance toward the thing and gives it more power. Instead, we should be “for” something as it releases resistance and gives us more power to manifest that which we’re “for”.
Morgan Freeman, in a 2005 interview with Mike Wallace on 60 minutes, said we can get rid of racism when we “stop talking about it.” He continues, “I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.”
I remember hearing that when the interview first aired 15 years ago and I completely agreed with him back then. I felt that the more we talk about it, focus on it and put our energy on it, the more it expands, the more we keep it alive.
Today, I no longer believe that. And I suspect neither does Morgan Freeman as he recently opened his Instagram account to anyone who wanted to share their story of racism.
I’m not sure what shifted within Morgan Freeman, but I’ll tell you what shifted in me.
It’s been an ongoing personal process in the past 10 years that has led me to a place where I no longer live in the spiritual la-la-land of beautiful quotes and ideologies that have no practical application in the “real world”. I now have my feet firmly planted on earth experiencing its physical reality, and at the same time, my arms outreached and vision held firmly in the transcendent, spiritual realm.
Many of us spiritual students hide behind dreamy spiritual principles that, while true from a deeper perspective, prevent us from facing (and therefore, healing) the cold, hard facts of our everyday lives. We do this because it’s easier and gives us a sense of control where we feel helpless. When you have zero money in your bank account, have no idea where you’ll get the rent money by the 1st, and have to hide your car at your friend’s house for fear it might get repossessed, it feels better to write affirmations on your mirror about how abundance flows effortlessly to you and how deserving you are of wealth and riches.
I once affirmed myself all the way to bankruptcy. I’ve since learned the importance of claiming full responsibility in my life, and that means facing it head on, in full force, so I can reclaim my power and create real change, physically and spiritually.
Let me give you an example of how this applies to our statement and why it’s hurtful.
Remember our friend from the #AllLivesMatter section above? The one whose husband has been beating her for 20 years? Imagine she’s sitting on our couch again, sharing her story through sobs, and this time, instead of telling her about all the other lives that matter in this world, we say:
“Stop talking about it. You keep focusing on what’s happening right now and how you’ve felt the past 20 years and what he’s done. That’s in the past. Is he beating you right now? In this moment? No, you’re safe. Start focusing on how safe it feels right now so you can manifest more safety in your future. Look at the pretty flowers in the yard, visualize beauty and love, focus on the positive, and write a list of all the things you’re grateful for, really feel it. When you go home and he beats you again, think about peace, vibrate pro-peace and try not to think about what he’s doing to you, how much it hurts and how bad you feel, it’s just an illusion anyway. Try to envision light and joy and how you want to feel. Stop talking, thinking, and reading about physical abuse because the more you put your energy on it, the more it happens.”
Some friend we are, huh?
This is exactly what we do when we don’t want to face racism. We dismiss the personal stories, the raw, real life, heavy, painful, bloody experiences that need to be brought to light, processed and healed before lasting change can occur.
We can no longer afford to ignore, avoid, or otherwise deny these experiences in the name of spirituality.
In fact, facing our humanity in all its messy fullness is the most spiritual thing we can do.
Why this is hurtful:
First, nothing will bring George Floyd back. Everyone knows this, even the looters. He was murdered in plain sight for all the world to see. Second, this isn’t about two wrongs, this is about 5,498,543,189 wrongs committed over the past 400+ years. (Yes, I made up that number. In reality, it’s likely a lot more than 5 billion.)
Imagine you grew up hearing stories directly from your great grandparents, grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, friends, and practically everyone you know about their own personal experiences of slavery, segregation, discrimination, mistreatment, or oppression.
Imagine your uncle was arrested and went to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Imagine you were once beaten up as a child on your way to school by a bunch of white kids, spat on and called the n-word. Imagine finally becoming a teenager and your parents sit you down at the dining room table to have “the talk” with you but instead of talking about sex, they teach you that if you ever got stopped for speeding or a traffic violation or while walking down the street at night, to put up your hands in plain sight, don’t argue, be polite and remain calm and nonthreatening no matter what, or you might get killed simply because the color of your skin sparks fear and even hatred in some people.
Imagine being turned down for colleges because of the color of your skin. Imagine every job you apply for going to a white person. Imagine when you finally get a good job that your white colleague gets more opportunities to grow within the company. Imagine telling that white colleague how you feel about all this and them dismissing you, saying you’re pulling the race card and racism doesn’t exist and you have to stop playing victim and take charge of your own life!
Now imagine yet another unjust murder of a black person.
And the world still doesn’t listen.
You’ve been given nothing in this life, you’ve been treated as though you’re not entitled to anything, you don’t deserve anything, all the hard work you do means nothing. And suddenly there’s an uprising, you feel it in your gut, you feel it in your peers around you, you feel it in the world. A window to a store gets smashed and people are running in and taking things, or maybe you’re the one who smashed the window.
All the years of repressed anger at all the injustices you’ve personally experienced and the DNA of your ancestors and relatives within you, flowing through you, boiling to the surface… your rage takes over and you run in, grab a 3-pack bundle of underwear and run out, because no one has ever given you a goddamn thing in your life, everything has been taken away, and you deserve this ONE thing dammit, just one goddamn thing, even if it’s just a package of underwear.
It’s an act of empowerment, of reclaiming your power, of asserting that you’re worth something, you deserve something. It’s also an act of defiance and retribution against capitalism and the system that perpetuates racism. And then of course, there are those who simply want to cause chaos and destruction, destroying and stealing things for the sake of it, or to get free stuff.
In all these cases, it doesn’t make it right. But at least we can begin to understand the emotions behind some of the looting. And we can begin to see how complex and deeply rooted systemic racism infiltrates our every day lives, for all people of all colors, especially those who are consistently and systematically deprived, and how sometimes enough is simply enough.
Another reason this statement is hurtful is because it’s yet another way we hide behind our ignorance and unwillingness to face our own racist tendencies. For those who said you supported the Black Lives Matter movement until they started looting, consider the sweeping generality and typecasting of that statement.
It’s like saying you wanted to help your abused friend until you heard on the news that a woman who was also abused by her husband slapped her baby in public. While the root of the action may stem from a commonality of a lifetime of abuse, pain and suffering, one woman’s actions cannot speak for all women, nor can it speak for all abused women, nor can it speak for all abused women of a certain color. And while we can’t condone the action of the other woman, it doesn’t mean we turn our back on our friend who needs our help.
If any of the above examples helped you understand more about your loved ones, yourself or your own role in contributing to racism, and you’re as shocked and horrified as I was, there’s hope.
In fact, now that we’ve awakened to our own ignorance, we can finally do something substantial about it.
But first, it’s important to process your thoughts and emotions internally.
HOW TO PROCESS YOUR RACIST TENDENCIES AND STILL LOVE YOURSELF
It’s not easy to discover that you’re one of them, one of those people you disliked, who discriminates against another because of their skin color. For many of us, it’s downright devastating. For me personally, these past few weeks have been a really intense emotional journey that has made me question many things about myself.
On one of the calls I joined, an incredibly patient black woman named Sharon Brown told us to ask ourselves three questions:
What don't I know?
What do I know?
What can I do now in my sphere of influence?
Sharon Brown is an investor, advisor, entrepreneur, and launch strategist. She invests in small businesses looking to grow physical products, SaaS, and services. You can learn more about her at SharonBrown.co and you can listen to her Target Launch podcast on all major platforms. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn.
What don’t I know:
I’ve learned that I don’t know much about racism. I don’t know anything about the black experience. In fact, I don’t even know what I don’t know.
What do I know:
I know that I’m open to learning about racism, individual and systemic. I know that my intentions are pure, my heart is kind and I’m committed to growth. As one of my well-respected mentors said about himself after discovering he was perpetuating the hurt the black community felt by making innocent but ignorant comments and doing things that were contributing to racism, “I’m facing a lot of personal uncertainty right now but I stand completely grounded in certainty about being a good person.”
As do I.
Just because you have racist tendencies or unconscious bias does not mean you’re a bad person.
It just means you’re human. You’re evolving, learning, growing. You’re on a journey. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. A life-long marathon.
My first feelings were of shock, guilt, anger, and shame. At first directed toward myself and then toward the system. But the moment I started blaming the system and pointing fingers, defending myself, and attacking others, I knew I had to reign it back in and look in the mirror.
I AM the system. WE ARE the system.
It’s up to us to change it. And it starts by truthfully acknowledging our role in it.
James Baldwin, author of the unfinished manuscript Remember This House, off which the film I Am Not Your Negro is based, wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
We must first face our own demons before we can face the world’s, and before we can affect change, personally and globally.
What can I do now in my sphere of influence:
I then moved to Sharon’s third question and decided to host my own call, much like the calls my mentors have hosted for their community where we openly faced our demons together. My sphere of influence is in my blog subscribers, my readers, students, clients, family, friends and fans. So I offered a free live call to my subscribers to discuss what I learned and see how others were feeling. This was the first time I openly shared my discoveries of my own racism, and I received many messages after the call from people of all colors stating how they too are awakening to their own layers of racism.
Make no mistake, there’s a mass awakening on the planet right now. Starting with a global pandemic, this year has been the year for uprooting and overturning everything we thought we knew about humanity, ourselves, life and the ways in which our society functions.
This is an unprecedented time and I’m excited, honored and terrified to be a part of it.
In dealing with your own feelings of shock, guilt, shame, anger, etc., it’s important to remember the broader vision. You’re standing at the leading edge of massive change, at a time that will be recorded and immortalized in history books forever, at the tipping point of a radical shift in humanity where the kind, loving, inclusive world you always yearned for is starting to form. It’s still in its early infancy, yes, but it’s being birthed as you read this.
We are evolving. And evolution hurts. Change is difficult. And necessary.
As a teacher of energy and emotions, here’s my best topline advice for processing your emotions through this heavy time.
1. Understand that emotions are simply energy in motion.
Nothing more, nothing less. We label our emotions and judge them as good or bad based on how pleasurable they feel, or not. We resist them when they feel unpleasant and welcome them when they feel pleasant. When they feel unpleasant, we try to push them away by denying, numbing, rationalizing or any number of tools we’ve picked up along the way to change our emotions. When those tools don’t work, we beat ourselves up and judge ourselves… for being weak, not good enough, wrong, broken, flawed. We think we should be better and feel better but that makes us feel worse so on and on we go in a downward emotional cycle.
When you fully understand that emotions are simply energy in motion and have absolutely no correlation to your identity, worth or value whatsoever, they no longer control you and you become free to feel anything and everything that arises with strength, power, and acceptance.
In the same way that we don’t judge the electricity flowing through our homes, we no longer judge our emotions for flowing through us nor do we judge ourselves for feeling those emotions.
2. Understand that like all energy, emotions need to flow.
When an emotion is resisted, pushed down, or otherwise rejected, it ceases to flow and becomes stuck, stagnant energy in our beings that we drag around with us everywhere we go, like a tumor inside us. Ever meet someone who’s always uptight, like they’re on the verge of exploding? It’s because they have old, unprocessed, and stuck energy that’s constantly struggling to break free. The more they push it down, the more powerful its desire to flow. If they never release it emotionally through their energy body, it seeps through their physical body, sometimes in the form of a cancerous tumor, chronic fatigue, or any number of health issues. Many of us have been lugging around trapped, unresolved, unhealed energy for years, decades and even an entire lifetime. It’s no wonder we’re chronically exhausted.
When an emotion is allowed to flow freely, it comes and goes quickly. When an emotion is acknowledged and welcome, no matter how painful, it moves through our energy body efficiently and effectively, as it was meant to, often within minutes and even seconds.
It’s not necessary to feel an emotion for hours, let alone even 20 minutes. The only reason we feel emotions longer than 90 seconds is because we’re either holding on (usually because it’s pleasant) or we’re resisting (usually because it’s unpleasant). In either scenario, we’re not allowing it to freely flow through us, we’re obstructing it.
3. The best way to let emotions flow is to breathe and allow.
It’s simple yet one of the most challenging practices, especially when you’re new to it. When we’re caught up in a moment of intense emotion, the last thing we want to do is slow our breath or welcome something that feels bad or painful. We typically want to change the emotion (so we can feel better), change whatever it is outside of us that triggered the emotion (like a person or a situation), or if we have a tendency to internalize things, like many highly sensitive people, we want to change ourselves.
These are all forms of resistance. Instead of reacting to our initial impulse to change it, take a deep breath (even if it’s a deep shaky breath) and count to 5 as you breathe in slowly, and another 5 as you breathe out slowly. Counting serves as a distraction to take your mind off the intensity and gives it something else to focus on. Breathing serves as a reminder to pause, to recenter yourself so you can act from a more mindful space rather than reacting and getting swept away in your emotion. You’re not trying to change the emotion, you’re simply counting your breaths and allowing the emotion to flow through.
If, while breathing, the emotion feels hyperactive, in the sense that you feel like you want to jump out of your own skin, you can’t sit still, or you’re shaking, trembling, or want to physically hit something, listen to your body. Allow it to guide you in releasing the energy, in a way that doesn’t harm you or another person or animal. You could beat up a pillow, do jumping jacks, yell, scream into the sky, have a tantrum. Young children are great at flowing their emotions freely. As soon as they’ve released, they’re often calm and feeling better. The younger the child, the quicker the release since they haven’t yet learned to judge, condemn, or use their emotions to get what they want yet.
One of my favorite techniques for super intense emotion is what I call the “Crazy Banshee Dance”. In the safety of your own home (or any private place – if you’re at work, it could be a filing room or a supply closet), jump up and down, shake, convulse, flail your arms, thrash about like a wild, untamed, crazy person. If you’re in a completely private space and can make noise, then wail, scream, shriek, yell, cry. Allow your body to release the emotion for you in whatever way it wants (safely, of course). This is my favorite practice because it’s not only incredibly easy and effective in quickly releasing intense emotions, but the absurdity of how I would look if someone were watching (you’ll know what I mean when you do it) makes me laugh and my energy suddenly shifts to one of playfulness and freedom. After all, how often do you ever let your inhibitions completely go and move like a wild banshee, in public or in private?
The idea is to allow your emotion to flow freely by relaxing into it, accepting and welcoming it. You are not your emotions, you’re simply a human being feeling energy in motion move through you. In removing any sense of self-identification with the emotion, we become free to feel without judgment and the emotion is gone in mere seconds, no longer trapped inside us.
If you’re an empath, remember that you have a tendency to absorb other people’s emotions, taking them on as your own. During these past few weeks (and months, due to COVID-19), you’ve likely felt overwhelming feelings of deep sadness, loss, grief, confusion and anger. You’ve probably burst into tears, seemingly out of the blue when you’re washing dishes or driving or doing other neutral tasks, your emotions raw and bubbling to the surface from deep within. You’ve probably had conversations with family members that leave you feeling frustrated, enraged or even completely checked out. You’ve probably even gotten to the point of not watching the news or canceling your social media accounts.
And it’s likely that you’re absolutely positively 100% unequivocally SPENT.
Depleted. Drained. Exhausted.
Be mindful that you’re not only processing your own emotions but you’re also feeling the collective emotions of our society as well as the individual emotions of those immediately around you and in your household. Be extra gentle with yourself as you maneuver your way through the myriad of emotions swirling through and around you.
As you begin to awaken to the ways in which you’ve personally perpetuated racism by your unconscious words, behaviors, or actions (or lack of), it’ll be hard enough to deal with your guilt, shame, and anger without adding on extra layers of self-judgment and criticism. As sensitive, loving souls who’ve spent a lifetime being misunderstood and having others treating us insensitively, we know how it feels. So when we discover we’ve been inadvertently misunderstanding and treating black people insensitively, it cuts us deeply, and we turn the pain and anger inward, beating ourselves up for being the mean ones.
It’s important to remember, and gently remind ourselves over and over, that unconscious bias is just that – unconscious. We didn’t know what we were doing and we never intentionally wanted to hurt anyone.
But now that we know what we’re doing, where do we go from here?
As Kimberly McCormick said on one of our calls, “The things we can learn from each other are much more powerful than the things we try to find wrong with each other.”
So let’s start learning from each other…
NOW WHAT? HOW TO MOVE FORWARD
It’s one thing to discover our role in a broken system, it’s another to take action to change it. Sadly, many people will stop at discovery. If creating personal change is difficult, affecting planetary change seems impossible. But like the system which is composed of a sum of its parts, so too do we humans, as well as all life forms, comprise the inhabitants of this planet. As inhabitants, we have the power to create change where we live, in our individual homes, and our greater, global home.
Becky Margiotta, founder of Billions Institute, recorded this short and practical 9-minute video about the Power of Commitment, specifically during this time when many are wondering how to take action. Watching her process the steps in real time helped me so much that I reached out to Billions Institute and received permission to use her video for this article.
Once you’re committed to creating lasting, substantial change, here are some things you can start doing.
It’s your responsibility to educate yourself. While the black people on the live calls I joined were gracious enough to spend their time educating the non-blacks, it’s not their job. It’s yours. And mine. Scattered throughout this guide are links to resources that have helped me tremendously in the past few weeks. Start there and follow your inner guidance to lead you where you need to go. Consider this a continuing education that never ends.
Specifically, listen to black people as they tell their stories. True listening requires setting aside our own ego, beliefs, assumptions, perceptions, stories, defenses, offenses, pretenses, righteousness, and hurt feelings. While all these may still be present despite our best efforts, we can remind ourselves of the primary goal – to acknowledge another human being’s existence – and continue to release our egoic layers while deepening our listening. As a black man said at the beginning of a call, “If you’re going to make any assumptions, assume what you’re hearing is the truth.” Expect to be uncomfortable.
Become an active advocate for social justice.
I have always been someone who says they believe in social justice but I haven’t actually done anything about it. Don’t be like me. I’m not even going to be that me anymore. There are many ways to advocate but here are a few.
Support organizations or groups that work toward racial justice and equality. This could be donating time, resources, or money. If you donate money, I challenge you to take it a step further.
Talk about race. To people inside and outside your circle. Don’t try to change anyone’s mind, simply share what you’re learning about yourself personally and about systemic racism. They may or may not agree with you, but that’s irrelevant.
Take this free 21-Day Racial Equity Building Challenge by Eddie Moore, Jr. which urges you to do one action a day to deepen your understanding, and has a list of suggested reading, listening, and watching.
Become an antiracist, not just a nonracist.
The term ‘antiracist’ refers to people who are actively seeking not only to raise their consciousness about race and racism, but also to take action when they see racial power inequities in everyday life. Being an antiracist is much different from just being ‘nonracist,’ as Black antiracist Marlon James made clear. Being a nonracist means you can have beliefs against racism, but when it comes to events like the murders of Black men by police, “you can watch things at home unfolding on TV, but not do a thing about it.”
According to James, being an antiracist means that you are developing a different moral code, one that pairs a commitment to not being racist (whether verbalized or not) with action to protest and end the racist things you see in the world. I would add that saying you aren’t a racist isn’t enough to start healing from racism. You need the intentional mindset of ‘Yep, this racism thing is everyone’s problem—including mine, and I’m going to do something about it.
Much love and compassion for your ongoing journey,